Wednesday, February 25, 2015

No Lundqvist? No Nash? No Problem – Rangers beat Flames 1-0

It started out ominously.  Rick Nash, the Rangers star forward who has been a real pain in the neck to opponents all season – was unable to play because of a pain in the neck of his own.  They’re calling it day-to-day and let’s hope it is NOTHING like Henrik Lundqvist’s pain in the neck that has resulted in an extended absence.

So the Ranger took to the home ice last night without their TWO best players against a Calgary Flame team desperately trying to get into the playoffs.

Vigneault replaced Nash on the top line with 3rd line center rookie Kevin Hayes.  And he backfilled the third line center position with Hartford rookie Oscar Lindberg.

If you like stoppages – this was the game for you.  Icing.  Offsides.  This contest had them all and as a result - pretty much no offensive flow for either team.   There were – get this – 65 faceoffs with the Rangers winning almost half of them.  Of course – if you think the Rangers can’t win faceoffs – that would lead opponents to not care if they ice the puck – but hopefully this won’t be an ongoing thing we have to face.

And once again Vigneault looked like the best coach on hockey – his bold move putting Hayes at a left wing position he had never really played in college paid off with Hayes’ 5th goal in 8 games – and what turned out to be the game winner.  Brassard stole the puck in the Flame’s zone and passed it to an open Hayes in the right circle.  Hayes launched a nasty-quick shot that beat the otherwise stellar Karri Ramo (double letters in his first name) for the game’s only tally.

From there it was the Cam Talbot show as Hank’s replacement upped his post-Henrik record to an amazing 8-1-2 (that is 18 of a possible 22 points).  Cam was aided by the Ranger defense and the 65 stoppages and had to make just 21 saves to win the game.  It was Talbot’s 4th shutout of the season. 

What Did We Learn?  Good question.  We learned the Hayes may be a rising star, that Cam can still shut guys out, that Lindberg was not bad as a third line center, that J. T. Miller was in his first NHL fight, and that Vigneault is a great hockey coach. 

Uh, A Little Help?  Assists?  Just Brassard’s – with the steal and pass that led to our only goal.

Did Special Teams Determine The Outcome Of This Game?  Why yes.  The Rangers killed off both Flames’ powerplay and, incredibly, were not shorthanded the entire game!

Where Do We Stand?  Can you believe it?  37-16-6. (8-1-2 post Hank).  Do we even have to look down anymore?  We have 80 points – 15 up on 9th place Florida.  3 points up on Pittsburgh.  4 points up on Washington.  Looking up – still 2 points back of the Islanders with 3 games at hand.

Oh My - What Will Happen Next?  Thursday it's Arizona at MSG.

Non-Sequitur of the day:  Keith Olberman suspended again.  I like the guy – but sometimes he’s his own “worst person in the world”

Thanks – Dave Pucks out.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rangers get and lose a 3 goal lead - Beat Columbus 4-3 in Shootout

The Rangers had a 3-0 lead over Columbus.  A goal by Hayes and then a pair by the suddenly hot Marty St. Louis (including one impossible angle where he banked it off the goalie) and things were looking good.

But these are the Rangers – and specifically the post-Lundqvist Rangers and so by 15:41 of the third the dreaded three goal lead was a 3-3 tie.
The Rangers managed just one shot in the third period and we were headed to overtime.

The extra period was wild - with 9 shots on goal – six by the Rangers but no goals.  So – for the 2nd Cam game in a row – we were headed to the dreaded (that rhymed) shootout.
On Thursday – the Rangers and Cam did so badly in the shootout that it only took 2 rounds to finish the game.

This time the Rangers were determined to do better.

Marty St. Louis fluttered one between  McElhinney’s arm and leg.  And I’m going to name that a “Baby Hat Trick” (two regulation goals plus one in the shootout)

J.T Miller hit the post and Ryan Johansen tried to become the 4th consecutive player to score on Cam Talbot in the shootout. 

But the Blue Jacket I call Mark “L’testtube” beat Cam and it was 1-1.

Then J.T Miller hit the post.

And so Ryan Johansen tried to become the 4th consecutive player to score on Cam Talbot in the shootout.  He beat Cam and Sam Rosen called it a goal – but the crossbar saved us and it was 1-1 after two rounds.

Then Rick Nash tried something everyone else tries – but for Rick it worked.  A simple move to the forehand and a snap shot and the Rangers were up 2-1.

With the Garden fans on their feet cheering on Talbot, Cam Atkinson advanced (yes it was Cam on Cam).  Talbot got aggressive, tried a poke check and  somehow came away with his first real shootout save in 5 tries and the Rangers somehow pulled out another win. 

Uh, A Little Help?  Two assists for Stepan and singles for Staal, McDonagh and Hagelin.

Did Special Teams Determine The Outcome Of This Game?  Why do you keep asking about this?  Rangers were 0-4 on the power play but 3 for 3 on the kill.  If we’d scored on one of the those 4 attempts we could have put the game away.

Where Do We Stand?  It’s an amazing 36-16-6.  (7-1-2 in our last 10).  That puts us at 78 points, just 2 points back of the Islanders for first place with a full three games at hand.  Looking down we are 14 points up on the Panthers – who themselves only lead the streaking Flyers by a point.

Oh My - What Will Happen Next?  Tuesday night its Calgary at MSG.

Non-Sequitur of the day:  Some nice moments for ex-Rangers Asimov and Dubinsky. 

Enjoy this season, Ranger fans, this is a special one.  Dave Pucks out and thanks for reading

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Skapski Era Begins? Rangers win 3-1

Mackenzie Skapski – the 20 year Old Hartford Whaler was called up to the Rangers when Henrik Lundqvist went out with his vascular injury.  And Friday night he got his Ranger debut.  14 seconds later it was 1-0 Buffalo and it wasn’t Mackenzie’s fault in the least.

"And the home of the....GOAL!".  At least it felt that quick.

Matt Moulson was parked in front - unguarded – he got the puck and well – welcome to the NHL kid!

But, from there Skapski’s save percentage begin climbing in leaps and bounds.  It rocketed up of 0.000 to 0.500.  and the  to 0.667.  Then 0.750.  Then .800. And then more complicated numbers that Dave Pucks can’t figure out in his head. 

But by the end it was 0.960, tying him, hilariously, for the lead among all NHL goalies. 
The Rangers, meanwhile, rallied around the kid and won 3-1 against a Sabre team that has only won 3 of their last 10. 

I’ll say it again – I think Vigneault is a GREAT hockey coach.  The back-to-back wasn’t just a convenient way to work in Skapski and give Cam a rest – it was a wake-up call to the Ranger’s that they have to play a little defense if they want to consistently win hockey games. And it gave Cam a little down time after giving up 9 goals in two games.  Just what the hockey doctors ordered.

And for one game anyway – they appeared to do just that – limiting Buffalo to 25 shots (while taking 43 of their own).  This was a rare game where the Rangers won the face off battle and the hockey game – and it seemed for long stretches that the Sabre simply could not get the puck.

Hagelin scored the first Ranger goal on a breakaway and it was 1-1 after one.

In the 2nd period’s first minute, Brassard found Rick Nash alone in the right circle and Ricky netted number 37, continuing one of the best Ranger seasons we’ve seen from anyone in a long time.

And 7 minutes Nash broke in on Michal Neuvirth, skated past him to the left side and launched a tough angle shot.  Neuvirth made the initial save but let up a costly rebound to the advancing Mats Zuccarello.  The Norwegian Nuisance smacked the puck and we were 3-1.

The third period was scoreless and you have your win. 
Uh, A Little Help?  Two assists by Brassard, and one each for JT Miller, Staal, Boyle, and Nash. 

Did Special Teams Determine The Outcome Of This Game?  The Rangers squandered an extended 5 on 3 – but in the end we were 0-4 and the Sabre were 0-3 so no harm done.

Where Do We Stand?  It’s 34-16-6

Oh My - What Will Happen Next?  It’s 35-16-6.  2nd place in the Metro. 

Non-Sequitur of the day:  We are two weeks into our three week Hank injury evaluation.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What Happened? Rangers Lose 5-4 in the Shootout to the Canucks.

Returning home from an amazing road trip featuring 22 goals in 4 games and a 4 game win streak the Rangers proudly took to their home ice to take on the Vancouver Canucks

The Rangers had a 1-0 lead.  They lost it.

They had a 2-1 lead.  They lost that.  In fact they trailed 3-2 in the third. 

But then they struck back for a pair and lead 4-3.  Their third lead of the night.

They lost that too and then lost in the Shootout.

I guess – if you’re going to lose – that’s a good way.  Lots of goals and excitement.  And you get 1 of a possible 2 points.  So the nights not a total loss

Also interesting was the fact that we did as badly as you can possible do in the shootout.  Both Zuccarello and Stepan decided to shoot into Ryan Miller’s pads while Cam didn’t stop either shot that came his way.  It was so bad that they stopped the shootout after two rounds because it was already over. 

The best moment for me was when the Garden began chanting “Talbot, Talbot, Talbot”.  But it was short lived.  Cam’s save percentage was 0.857 tonight and I think it’s safe to say this was a game Henrik Lundqvist would have found a way to win.

And of course – we won the faceoff battle 32-29, proving yet again that face off wins is an incredibly overrated stat.   

On the bright side – great to see goals by

 Marty St. Louis (a great backhand to forehand move around the defenseman. 
·         Rick Nash on a Brassard fueled breakaway.  That 37!
·         Hagelin on a nice deflection, and
·         Stepan on a perfect pass from St Louis from behind the end line.  (that was two goals by the no-longer-slumping Stepan line)

But sloppy defense and, well, four goals wasn’t enough.  Oh well.

Uh, A Little Help?  Assists?  Well, okay.  2 for Girardi and one each for Brassard, Stepan, St. Louis, Zuccarello AND Hagelin.  You know this loss really felt like a win.

Did Special Teams Determine The Outcome Of This Game?  I think new can say yes this time.  Rangers were 0-3, Canucks were 1 for 1.  So yeah – we lost the game right there.   

Where Do We Stand?  It’s 34-16-6 and I would have totally signed up for that if it was offered to me at the start of the season.  The shootout loss gets us to 74 points – good for 2nd in the metro.  We’re 5 points back of the Islanders with three games at hand.  The Caps are tied with us in point but also played three more.  And, in the feel good story of the day – the Penguins have dropped to 4th place.  Also we are 12 points up on the 9th place Panthers. 

Oh My - What Will Happen Next?  It’s off to Buffalo for a game tomorrow night.  This is the downside of games-at-hand.  They come in bunches with less rest.

Non-Sequitur of the day:   The Rangers are somehow third in the league in offensive goals scored per game.  If we ever get Hank back we will be unstoppable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Best Win Of The Season - Rangers Storm Back To Beat Islanders 6-5

Boys and Girls – that was the best Ranger victory of the season – one of the best hockey games I’ve seen in years – and proof-positive that this team is a 100% legit contender to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.  

Fighting a first place Islander team that has had their number this year – without their best player Henrik Lundqvist in goal – trailing all night – your New York Rangers rose from the dead not once, but twice to overcome three two goal deficits to tie the Nassau Nemeses and then exploding for the game winner late in the third to defeat the stunned Islanders 6-5 on their own Long Island Ice.

Make no mistake – this team can score.  We are now talking 22 goals in 4 games.  That’s two 6’s and two 5’s.  Vigneault has built this group – a unit that was supposed to not have the talent to compete for the cup – into a team that can fire the puck through the neutral zone – flood into the opponent’s zone with speed – move the puck – generate chances – and score, score and score again.

You pal Dave Pucks has been watching the Blue Shirts since that meant squinting at a ten once black & white TV at Jean Ratelle – and I have NEVER seen a Ranger team that could score like this.  You have three dangerous lines now – all of which can light the lamp.  To put this another way – you get six goals – and folks – you can take your chances.

This was a hockey game that not only seemed like a playoff game – it almost felt like an entire playoff series.  11 goals.  Sam Rosen at 14:20 of the 2nd actually called it, saying “this could be a 6-5 game”.

It only took the Islanders 11 seconds to take the lead as Tavares, the Islanders best player, intercepted Talbot’s attempted pass from behind the net and John shot the puck cleanly into the net before Cam could get back to the crease.   Nielson added the Islanders 2nd goal at 11:46 and it was a two goal lead.

It was the captain, Ryan McDonagh, who got the Rangers started in the right direction.   The Ranger defenseman took a long Halak rebound and rifled it in from the right circle to cut the lead to 2-1.

On to the second period, where at 1:20 Johnny Boychuk beat Cam with slap shot from the blue line and it was 3-1.  But in the period’s 4th minute the Rangers rose up and changed this hockey game:

First - Dan Boyle passes the puck to Derek Stepan and the Ranger center delivers the puck 
to Chris Kreider who crossed the blue line and just flat-out beak Halak with a long wrister that clanged off the post and in.  The goal shook the islanders and ignited the Rangers – who scored again just 23 seconds later.

This time it was the captain’s 2nd of the night.  J. T. Miller slide the puck near the blue line to Ryan – who shot it through traffic and past the rocked Islander goalie to, incredibly, tie the contest at 3-3.

But – to the Islander’s credit – they regrouped and then regained the momentum after a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty by the Rangers.  We fought off the extra man attack for the full 2 minutes – but in thr seconds afterwards – Ryan Strome beat an exhausted Rangers defense and Cam Talbot – and the Islanders had regained the lead escaping the third period up 4-3.

So –on to a third period that would feature 4 more goals and the game’s only lead change.
For the third time – the Islanders scored the first goal of a period.  The Rangers had put on sustained pressure for three minutes but the Islander defense held.  Then a costly turnover by Dan Boyle gave our opponents a 3 on 1 break – which they cashed in to rebuild a two goal lead, 5-3 with 3:43 gone in the third.

But if this game was over – someone forget to tell the New York Rangers.  It was the Stepan line that got things started.  Chris Kreider came flying up the right side of the ice and brilliantly shoveled a no-look backwards pass to the trailing Derek Stepan – surprising everyone on the ice – possibly including Derek himself.  Stepan took the puck and fired a quick from the right circle that beat Halak and at 6:25 of the third the deficit was cut to one once again at 5-4. 

The Rangers had regained the momentum and were coming at the Islanders in waves now. 

And less than two minutes later – magic happened: 

Chris Kreider stole the puck in the neutral zone and Derek Stepan collected in and somehow the Rangers stayed onside (or did they) as the three forwards entered the Islanders zone together.  Stepan broke in on Halak and cleverly backhanded a pass across the ice tot the waiting Martin St. Louis.  The diminutive aging superstar was locked and loaded and ripped the puck at Halak who was trying to get his body into position.  But Marty – who had not scored in a month – could not have picked a better moment to bury this chance and tie the game, incredibly, at 5-5 at 8:02 of the third. 

And just like that – we had a tie hockey game.  With the lines jumbled on a long shift in the Islander’s zone, Brassard cut across the middle inside the blue line and headed left before rifling a cross ice pass to his right.  It came first to St. Louis who looked like a baseball hotter taking his m=homerun cut at a fast ball.  But the puck was by him before he could connect.  Halak had to react to Marty’s big swing and so was not fully prepared at the puck continued right to the stick of onrushing defenseman Kevin Klein.  Klein – who is having a career year – launched one of his patented fast and heavy shots and Halak could not handle it.

And when the ice chips had cleared it was – for the first time – the Rangers had taken a lead.  It was 6-5 and 15:28 and the Rangers and Talbot had their first lead to protect.   
They did some great work keeping the puck in the Islander end – but in the game’s final half minute they did attack the Rangers and Cam’s left post was called on to make a key save.  Shortly after that the final horn sounded and your New York Rangers had somehow scrambled back against a first place club to get their first win of the season against the Islanders and overcome a series of deficits to beat their rivals 6-5.

What a game.  And what a comeback by a gritty Ranger team.  Make no mistake – these guys can fly around the ice and score goals.  And when you can do that – you’re never out of a hockey game.  11 goals, 85 shots (42 by the Rangers). 

Uh, A Little Help?  Assists?  Oh yeah we got that:   2 for Stepan and one each for Girardi, Kreider, Boyle, Miller, Stempniak, Klein, Boyle and St. Louis.

Did Special Teams Determine The Outcome Of This Game?  No.  Officially we were 0-2 and and ne Islanders 0-3 with the man advantage. 

Where Do We Stand?  Oh baby – it’s 34-16-5. Looking down – the perennial 9th place Florida Panthers are now 13 points behind us.  And looking up, the news is, well, looking up.  We just passed Pittsburgh for 2nd place – we both have 73 points but the Rangers hold the game-at-hand.  And against the first place Islanders we are only 2 points back with two games at hand. 

Oh My - What Will Happen Next?  Home finally on Thursday to Vancouver.

So trap in folks – the Rangers are gunning for first place.  Thanks for reading – Dave Pucks out. 


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hank Who? Rangers win Vigneault’s 500th!

4-1-1.  That’s the Rangers’ record now since Henrik went down.  And tonight against the Arizona Coyotes the Rangers did several things really well:

Cam Talbot had his first truly dominant game since Hank went down with the vascular injury.  In the last three Cam’s save percentage was under 0.900 each time and the Rangers won by outscoring their opponents.  But tonight against Arizona, Cam was a stellar 0.971, stopping all but one of the 35 shots that came his way – including a penalty shot.

With the game 0-0 in the 2nd, the Stepan Line finally broke through for a goal in that period’s first minute.  Kevin Klein lifted the puck out of the Ranger zone perfectly to center Derek Stepan who got it on the stick of Chris Kreider wheo was breaking to the net.  Chris was able to beat the defense, cross in front of Mike Smith, and backhand the puck into the net 
for a 1-0 lead. 

Of course the Rangers gave one back for the 1-1- tie and that’s how we headed into the third.   And it was the NHL’s top scorer Rick Nash who put the Rangers ahead to stay.  Rick, alone on the right side, rifled the perfect shot upstairs for his 35th past Smith off the inside post for the 2-1 lead.

And then – rising rookie Kevin Hayes for the 2nd time in two games – took the puck the length of the ice to score.  Kevin on the penalty kill intercepted a shot between the circles and started up ice.  Hayes built up a head of steam, waited out a diving stickless defenseman, drove in on Smith and put the puck at a nearly impossible angle up and over the goalie’s shoulder for the 3-1 lead.  It was the first shorthanded goal of Hayes’ career.

The next goal started as a 3-on-2 break that the Rangers couldn’t quite finish.  The puck got behind Smith but not in the net and sat still on the ice for several long seconds.  Derek Stepan found it first and whacked at it to get the puck to Marc Staal who was trailing on the play.  Staal got the full wind up and buried the puck for a 4-1 lead.  On the replay it looks like Mart St. Louis has his stick up in celebration before the puck is shot in by Staal.  Can Marty see the future?  We may never know.

And there was yet another Ranger goal.  At 17:48 Lee Stempniak cashed in on a scramble in the crease and the Rangers had their 5-1 win.  You got to hand it to coach Vigneault – he has these Rangers flying and he collected a well-deserved 500th win as a head coach.  This is shaping up to be on of the best Ranger seasons in years.  And we have 16 goals in the last three games.  

Uh, A Little Help?  Another big assist night:  Two each for Stepan and Klein.  Single assists for St. Louis (finally), Hayes, Girardi, Brassard, and D. Moore. 

Did Special Teams Determine The Outcome Of This Game?  No penalties called on the Coyotes and the Rangers killed off all three penalties – so special teams was a big part of the win.

Where Do We Stand?  32-16-5. Looking down – the perennial 9th place Florida Panthers are now 12 points behind us and fading.  And we hold a 3 point lead and game at hand against the Capitals.  Looking up, the Penguins are just one point ahead at us and have played one more game.  And the Islanders won again so they stay 4 points up on us although they have played two more games. 

Oh My - What Will Happen Next?  The road trip rolls out to Long Island for a Monday night showdown with the hated Islanders.  The Nassau Nuisances have bested ous\r Rangers all three times they’ve met this year.  And that is the entire reason they occupy first place in the metro instead of us.   

Non Sequitur of the day.  This game concluded the “Dad’s Road Trip” the Rangers have been enjoying with their fathers.  It’s a great tradition that the nasty John Tortorella suspended but Vigneault has wisely reinstated.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Another Game, Another Nine Goals - Rangers win 6-3

The Post-Lundqvist Rangers rolled into Colorado to see how they would fare against the Avalanche.  (And why would a team name themselves after a natural disaster?  I mean, there are people walking around who have had loved ones lose their lives in avalanches.  What do those people think when they see this hockey teams name?)  (Editor – I think you’re getting off topic here.  Can you get back to the game?)  (Dave Pucks – sorry Ed, you’re right)

With Hank out a minimum of three weeks with a vascular issue, it’s all about Cam right now.  Vigneault has said that Talbot gives the rangers a chance to win every night.  But I think that also means he gives them a chance to lose….

The other sub-plot is the absence of the St. Louis – Stepan – Kreider line from the scorer’s sheet.  It’s been more than a month since Marty St. Louis netted a puck and this line - with our top center – seems to be doing nothing these days.  It’s been Hayes’ line (with J.T. Miller and Hagelin that has risen up to take their place as the Rangers  2nd best line.  Thank goodness for that or the Rangers would be in deep trouble.

Last night was another nine goal special.  The Rangers led 1-0 after one, 3-1 after two and then – the third period.  Colorado fought back to tie and then the Rangers exploded for three more goals and a 6-3 win.

Tonight the Rangers scored first.  At 16:30 of the first period the Rangers caught Colorado napping on a line change and attacked.  Hayes got the puck to Dan Boyle who was streaking towards the net.  Varlamov has been a thorn in the Ranger’s side for years – but Dan Boyle just deked and deked again and make the Colorado Goaltender look foolish.  (Editor – would you say Boyle made a monkey out of Semyon – which c sounds a little like simian?)  (Dave Pucks – no, sir, I would not).  Anyway – the Rangers lead 1-0 after one.

In the second it was Hayes unassisted who took the puck end to end in an impressive display for the rookie.  And then another goal the resurgent Mats Zuccarello with assists by Nash and Brassard.

On to the third where the Rangers lost their way and their lead before getting it all back.  I’ll skip the bad news – but the Hayes line scored again – this time by Hagelin.  And then – Rick Nash – falling down did the hockey equivalent of a hook shot to make it 5-3.  Add an empty netter by McDonagh and you have your 6-3 final.

Talbot was almost at 0.900 but not quite (0.897).    Rangers now 32-16-5, still in third but now 10 points above the 9th place team.  They’ll play Arizona on Saturday.